United announced today it will split its wide-body order evenly between Airbus and Boeing and has placed a firm order for 25 A350s and 25 787s.
Justifying the split order, United stated:
The breadth in size and capabilities of the different aircraft models ensure the company has the right aircraft for the right market throughout the fleet replacement cycle.
To clear the way for these new aircraft, UA will phase out its 747s and 767s between 2016-2019:
United expects to take delivery of the aircraft between 2016 and 2019; at the same time it will retire its international Boeing 747s and 767s. These 50 new aircraft will reduce the average seat count by about 19 percent compared to the aircraft they will replace, and by about 10 percent when averaged over the entire international fleet. With the Airbus A350 powered by the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine, and the Boeing 787 powered by either the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 or the GE GEnx, United estimates it will reduce its fuel costs and carbon emissions from the 50 aircraft by about 33 percent. Additionally, the company expects average lifetime maintenance costs for the new aircraft to be approximately 40 percent lower per available seat mile than the aircraft that will be retired.
In a Q&A section at the end of the press release, the dual order was discussed:
Q: What are the benefits of placing orders with both manufacturers?
A: Ordering aircraft from both Airbus and Boeing provides United greater financial benefits compared to choosing a single manufacturer. Neither manufacturer offers next generation aircraft sized to optimally serve all of the current and future markets in United’s network. The mix of Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 aircraft give us the right range of aircraft sizes needed to replace both our Boeing 747 and 767 aircraft. The economic benefit of placing the right size aircraft into each market overwhelms any benefit from ordering from one manufacturer.
Furthermore, our international fleet replacement program will reduce our fleet complexity, and associated operating costs, by eliminating one fleet type as we transition from three widebody aircraft types (Boeing 747, 777, and 767) to two (Airbus A350 and Boeing 787).
Pay particular attention to the last paragraph above. With options for another 50 wide-body aircraft, it appears that United’s long-term goal is to phase out not only its 747 and 767 aircraft, but also the 777. Even so, I cannot fathom this would take place for at least another decade so I am not going to lose any sleep about the 777 interior conversions being skipped.
One other tidbit from the press release:
These 50 new aircraft will reduce the average seat count by about 19 percent compared to the aircraft they will replace, and by about 10 percent when averaged over the entire international fleet.
Sounds like upgrades and cheap Economy tickets will be a bit harder to secure…
When I heard the news this morning, my first thought was why in the world United would order from both companies. Wouldn’t better pricing and lower maintenance costs been the byproduct of ordering from a single company?
After examining the press release, though, United’s reasoning makes sense. The 787 and A350 are not identical aircraft and both appear to be needed to take the place of the 747 and 767.
I offer my congratulations to United. New orders are always exciting and it has been 11 years since UA has placed one. I hope the order is an indicator of a bright and sucessfull future for United.